Monday, February 22, 2016

Lonely universe?

I am no longer allowed to comment on creationist cartoonist Dan Lietha's Facebook posts. Lietha does the After Eden cartoon on the Answers in Genesis website, and I've become somewhat fascinated with his work because it combines some quite respectable artistic talent with some absolutely baffling apologetics. And here I don't say "baffling" to mean "difficult to refute," but rather just plain weird.

I've taken the piss out of his cartoons on a couple of occasions, but that is almost certainly not why I'm now banned as Facebook commenter. Rather, it's because he has a rule against what he calls "debating," and what I call "correcting." I've never been rude in my corrections, and we actually had a positive exchange once, but at some point after that I discovered that my input is no longer welcome. That actually hurts a tiny bit.

But back to the weird apologetics. This one was posted today-- I have no idea why he chose to do a response to Ellen DeGeneres.

Was some big fuss made about her space alien comment? It seems fairly unremarkable to me.  I'm glad for the caption, as I might've confused her for Ryan Gosling otherwise. The sentiment sounds like a reply to a quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.
"Terrifying" isn't the word I'd use-- fascinating is the word I'd use.  And DeGeneres seems to agree, because she doesn't think much of humanity apparently.  I think humanity's great, but the chance of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is fascinating because of the sheer possibility of what that intelligence would be like. We only know our own, so far, and not that well honestly. And part of developing self-awareness is contrasting the self with others, so it would sure be nice to have some "others" to contrast ourselves with.

And given the immensity of the universe, it would be fascinating if there wasn't another form of intelligence on the level of humanity on some other planet, because even though it took the better part of 4.5 billion years in the time that Earth has existed for humanity to come along, it did happen. And there might be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in our galaxy alone. That's a staggering thought.

But given that Lietha is a creationist, I suppose it isn't staggering at all. I suppose he thinks that's outright nonsense, which is pretty staggering in itself.  But the chances of someone who thinks the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old being able to consider the ramifications of 40 billion possibilities of human-like intelligence in the Milky Way really couldn't be that high, could they?

I suppose the logic at play here bothers me the most. The cartoon just claims the non-existence of aliens as a flat fact, apparently based on the fact that fictional aliens exist.  How much sense does that make?  That would be like me saying that gods other than Jehovah, gods that Lietha considers to be fictional, exist, therefore....

Not very convincing, is it?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Just do what the Newt tells you

Newt Gingrich said on the February 14th edition Fox News' Fox and Friends Sunday:
No, no, no. He has every right to recommend. He doesn't have every right to choose. This goes back to the Constitution. The Senate is not obligated to approve who he recommends. I mean, he has a simple model. If he really wants to get somebody approved, sit down with Mitch McConnell and with conservative senators like Mike Lee, ask them who they would approve and nominate somebody who is in the Scalia tradition.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Statement from the NECSS

After my last post went live, the NECSS executive committee posted the following statement to their web site:
We wish to apologize to Professor Dawkins for our handling of his disinvitation to NECSS 2016. Our actions were not professional, and we should have contacted him directly to express our concerns before acting unilaterally. We have sent Professor Dawkins a private communication expressing this as well. This apology also extends to all NECSS speakers, our attendees, and to the broader skeptical movement. 
We wish to use this incident as an opportunity to have a frank and open discussion of the deeper issues implicated here, which are causing conflict both within the skeptical community and within society as a whole. NECSS 2016 will therefore feature a panel discussion addressing these topics. There is room for a range of reasonable opinions on these issues and our conversation will reflect that diversity. We have asked Professor Dawkins to participate in this discussion at NECSS 2016 in addition to his prior scheduled talk, and we hope he will accept our invitation. 
This statement and our discussions with Professor Dawkins were initiated prior to learning of his recent illness. All of NECSS wishes Professor Dawkins a speedy and full recovery. 
So yes, Dawkins was re-invited.  It's not clear why, except that the NECSS organizers apparently felt that they didn't un-invite him properly?  Huh.

Note: When they announced that Dawkins was un-invited, participants were offered a refund on their tickets if they wanted to cancel registration in light of the announcement. No such refund is mentioned here for those who bought tickets because they'd heard that Dawkins was un-invited.

Did Richard Dawkins blame his stroke on feminists?

On Feb. 5th Richard Dawkins experienced a stroke while at home, on the cusp of traveling to New Zealand and Australia for a speaking tour. Fortunately it was a minor stroke, and he was allowed to return home after four days to begin recuperating. He reported later that it was a hemorrhagic stroke in the right basal ganglion, which "affects left-side coordination but does not affect higher cerebral function."

That update comes from this recording of Dawkins describing what happened. In it he sounds very frail, but not a bit less lucid-- quite to the contrary, he takes the opportunity quote both Steven Pinker and his own previous writings on the evolutionary marvel of the human hand. Dawkins' own left hand's functioning had been diminished by the stroke to the point that manipulating buttons became difficult. He goes on to reflect that he'd been thought slow as a child for being a late learner of button manipulation as well as shoe-tying, having started life in Africa and not requiring such fastenings on his clothing at the time because of the ambient weather.

And this part of the recording I will simply transcribe, because listeners have reached radically different conclusions about its meaning:

The doctors, obviously, were worried about what caused it. I'd been having blood pressure problems for a while, which the GP and I'd thought were under control, but apparently not. The doctors asked me whether I'd been suffering from stress, and I had to say, yes I had.  They keep advising me not to get involved in controversy, and I'm afraid I had to tell them that controversy-- that not getting involved in controversy is not one of the things I'm terribly talented at.

I told them that I'd had a certain amount of controversy and was very distressed, and on the 28th of January I was dis-invited from a conference in America to which I'd previously been asked. This upset me very much. I'm used to getting hate from religious nuts and creationists but when I get hate from what I think of as my own people...the left, liberals, feminists and so on, that directly hurt me. And I might've been expected to get a stroke after that, if ever.

But paradoxically, the stroke came after I got a bit of good news. On the morning of February the fifth, I had a very gracious letter from the conference organizers, the committee, graciously apologizing for dis-inviting me and re-inviting me, and I was overjoyed at that. And you might think that's the last time I've have got a stroke, but it was actually the evening of that same day that I got the stroke.

It's to be assumed that the conference Dawkins is talking about here is NECSS, from which he was dis-invited last month for having approvingly tweeted a video claiming that feminists and Islamists share a commonly ideology.

I did some searching for verification that Dawkins had been re-invited to NECSS, but didn't find anything. There isn't any notice of such on their web site-- the most recent announcement regarding Dawkins is their declaration to dis-invite him on January 27th called Concerning Richard Dawkins.  I don't see anything on their Twitter feed, either.  So....who knows?

If I were PolitiFact, I would probably give the claim that Dawkins blamed feminists for his stroke a rating of "half true." He said that he could've been expected to have a stroke, "if ever," from the "hate" directed toward him by his "own people," which includes the left, liberals, and feminists.  But in this speculation, he notes that the stroke was more immediately preceded by receiving notification of being re-invited to NECSS.

Matthew Facciani at Patheos wrote a blog post that was originally titled "Dawkins blames feminists for his stroke," and then changed it after getting some heat from readers.  His post concludes:
I hope Dawkins continues to make a full recovery and I also hope that some of his words from this interview can impact people. 1) It’s another reminder how precious life is and how we should cherish every moment. and 2) It’s also a reminder that we should try to be decent to one another even when we disagree. Perhaps the many Dawkins fans who scoffed at the harassment women face online can take note how serious such behavior can be.
It wasn't just Dawkins' fans, but he himself who scoffed at the harassment women face online-- and even endorsed such harassment, in the case of Chanty Binx.  I suppose that's just because he decided that she was "nasty" and therefore "deserves abundant mockery, the more the merrier."

But here's the thing-- given Dawkins' comments above, it seems like he needs to make a decision. Either "abundant mockery" can potentially cause a person to have a stroke, or people can "deserve abundant mockery, the more the merrier."  I suppose a third option could exist-- that both are true, and therefore some people deserve to have a stroke caused by abundant mockery-- but I don't want to believe that anyone genuinely thinks that.

It's common knowledge that there are many feminists, including Chanty Binx, who have become the targets of sustained harassment both on the internet and off because they are well-known feminists. Each of these women has suffered from it. Each has had to make a choice, perhaps repeated choices, about whether to continue speaking out, and to what extent they can handle doing so.  Most of these women do not have anything like the platform and hordes of admirers that Dawkins has, factors that-- along with other privileges-- have enabled him to have considerable insulation from such ridicule.  It's a really good thing none of them have had strokes (that we know of) as a far.....isn't it?

Monday, February 1, 2016

What feminists make noise about

In reply to my previous post, "Jokuvaan" made the following comment:
What you are missing here is the current double standard of european mainstream feminists treating rapes differently depending of the ethnical background of the perpetrators. So far feminists have made more noise about one man comparing women to cars than about taharrush jamai or taharrush gamae in europe. 
Just recently a all women college in Germany decided to shut down for the time of the carnival so that the students wouldn't get raped if they left their homes. 
Some feminists go even as far as victim blaming like women shouldn't dress so revealingly to agitate the muslim men to rape. No I'm not shitting you. 
Sure this cartoon is a exaggeration but its not without a hint of truth. Though I'm not blaming you as it seems you are on the other side of the Atlantic and likely have to rely on english news on the subject and frankly most european countries are not native english speaking. 
My reply:

I have a few disparate points to make in response to that so I'm going to just number them for clarity:
  1. Your working definition of "feminist" seems to be "person who makes noise about crimes against women in proportion to what I, Jokuvaan, consider to be their severity." This is not the definition of feminism. A quick and easy definition of feminism would be "opposition to sexism and enforcement of gender roles." Being a feminist does not mean one has an obligation to make noise about anything at all, let alone make more noise about some things than others. To say otherwise is to commit a form of moral equivalence fallacy often referred to as "Dear Muslima" after Richard Dawkins famously used those words to commit said fallacy in 2011. You can read more about the fallacy here. You can also read Dawkins's limp apology for committing it here, though I'd note that he seemed to have forgotten about it completely by the very next day.
  2. Following from #1, a feminist's failure to "make noise" about something cannot be construed as agreement with it, much less advocacy of it. It's possible to care about more than one thing at a time, and it's possible to care about something without "making noise" about it. If you declared yourself to be an animal rights activist, and I noticed that you weren't protesting the fact that an endangered species of animal is being driven further to the brink of extinction, I don't get to declare that you share a common ideology with trophy hunters. That would be grossly dishonest of me, especially if I wasn't an animal rights activist myself. I don't get to tell you how to do your activism, and I don't get to claim you side with your enemy because you're not doing activism in the way I'd prefer.
  3. I cannot verify your claims about what "some feminists" have or haven't done regarding victim-blaming or reasons for shutting down carnivals, but I do wonder-- if it's the behavior of these feminist that supposedly lends a "hint of truth" to a video which claims that feminism generally has "much in common" with Islamism, isn't it rather odd that the person chosen to represent feminism in the video is a Canadian feminist? A person who has absolutely nothing to do with any of what you're talking about? Doesn't that seem rather odd, that they picked a woman who has been harassed for years for the "crime" of just yelling at some MRAs, rather than one of these people whom you say are engaging in victim-blaming? 
The cartoon is not an exaggeration-- it's a bald-faced lie. It was created by anti-feminists to claim that feminists are just like Islamists if they do not...I don't know what. Talk about Islamic misogyny all day, every day? Roam the streets trying to attack Muslim men as punishment for Islamic misogyny? Maybe just become anti-Muslim terrorists?

It's not clear what kind or amount of opposition to Islamic misogyny would convince an anti-feminist that feminists don't "share essentially the same ideology" as Islamists, and that's because anti-feminists don't actually give a shit about Islamic misogyny. They just hate both Muslims and feminists, and so it's awfully convenient to pretend that two of your enemies are in league with each other so you can swing the same club and hit them both.

In actuality, Islamophobes and Islamic misogynists are both enemies of mine, because I oppose both religion-based and sex-based bigotry. And if you think I'm not shouting about one loudly enough, it doesn't mean I agree with the other. It means you should do your own shouting.